The Descent Review

The Descent (2006)
Directed by Neil Marshall

It was an unlikely event that I even saw the film, but for it to climb its way into this list in front of other horror films like Psycho and Scream is a surprise for me. The Descent looks like a typical horror gore fest on the surface, but to me it’s one of the best cautionary tales about forgiveness, the effects of tragic deaths, and moving on that I’ve ever seen.

A year after the tragic death of her husband and child, Beth heads out to the Appalachian Mountains to spend some time and return to normal with her fellow daredevil girlfriends. They decide to spend their time spelunking in some of the Appalachian caves when one of the caves collapses and traps them underneath.

It’s true that there are scary creatures that kill their team off one by one (providing the standard genre fare), but it is done so well that there is some truly great moments of shock and gore. There are some perfect homages to other horror films as well, ranging from Apocalypse Now to The Blair Witch Project. This film gets the scares right, the logic of the scares, and it even gets the fighting back right.

Even better though is the social dynamic between all the women. Each woman is given a personality that adds something essential to the group dynamic creating a group of people as interesting as the jurors in 12 Angry Men. I appreciate that Neil Marshall is able to tell the personality and psychology of each of the women through the action and not through long takes of dialogue. It really is a superbly directed film.

I wouldn’t want to spoil the details of how the whole group unravels (that’s one of the true pleasures of the film), so I’ll just share with you my favorite aspect of the story. Beth’s inability to move pass the death of her child as well as forgive her friends (for reasons I won’t spoil here) are vital in how the story progresses. If you watch the film, I suggest you watch the unrated cut as it contains the original ending and not the American ending (its s British film).

This original ending is a powerful confirmation that unforgiveness and vengeance are caves of darkness with their own demons. The ending moments are just plain devastating for me. Its not an ending that satisfies genre convention, but it's one that truly transcends the genre. For those not into horror films, especially ones with gore, this may not be a film for you. However, if your just a little bit adventurous and willing to take a risk, I heartily recommend this film to you. This is my favorite pure horror film and the only one that I wouldn't want to live without.